Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Madoff’s Tentacles

The multibillion dollar Ponzi scheme perpetrated by Bernard Madoff has victims here in Florida.

From the oceanfront Palm Beach Country Club, Madoff recruited wealthy investors for his financial advisory firm. With losses estimated at $50 billion, regulators are now calling it one of Wall Street’s biggest-ever pyramid schemes.

In addition to Miami car dealer Norman Braman, alleged victims include a trust fund tied to real estate magnate Mortimer Zuckerman, a charity of movie director Steven Spielberg and giant banks HSBC Holdings and Spain’s Grupo Santander. Jewish charitable organizations were particularly hard hit, including MorseLife Community, a senior center in West Palm Beach.

In Weston, Emerald Asset Advisors said about $20 million of the $250 million the firm had under management was invested with Madoff. CEO Scot Hunter said that because the firm diversified portfolios, the roughly 25 clients invested with Madoff lost only a small portion of their total net worth.

In Palm Beach, the alleged massive fraud is the talk of the town, with people in every corner mesmerized by the sheer scope.

”It is sort of upfront on everyone’s mind as this unfolds. It’s not just Palm Beach — it’s the world,” said Palm Beach interior designer William R. Eubanks. ”We’re all horrified and appalled by what happened — someone seemingly so trustworthy.”

High-end pawn shops are doing a brisk business in Palm Beach.

As one of TPM’s readers notes, this kind of thievery has a long and storied history.

It would be easy to mock the rich for getting ripped off, but in fact a lot of innocent people with no connection to the rich and powerful might lose their pensions or life savings because their cities, companies or charities invested in Madoff’s portfolios. Ironically, it’s the people who did the investing who are the ones who complained the most about government regulation and the supposedly heavy hand of the SEC. Or used to.